Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Downside of Anger

Has anyone ever told you that you should express your emotions, openly and honestly? Has anyone ever told you that a full-throated expression of, for example, anger will cleanse your soul and make you more authentic? Has anyone ever told you that bottling up your emotions will cause you to become mentally ill or even give you cancer?

Ever since Freud declared that depression was anger misdirected against the Self, therapists have declared that expressing anger was better than repressing it.

It turns out that it was bad advice. Expressing anger, throwing a fit or a tantrum does not cleanse your soul; it increases your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.

The Daily Mail reports on the research, which comes from a reputable source:

Led by Dr Murray Mittleman, director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Harvard Medical School, the researchers found that in the two hours immediately after an angry outburst, a person’s risk of a heart attack increased nearly five-fold (4.74 per cent), the risk of stroke increased more than three-fold (3.62 per cent), and the risk of irregular heartbeat also increased compared to other times when they were not angry.

The more you lose it, the worse it gets:

People who regularly lose their temper are most at risk, along with those who have existing heart disease, says a US study.

It is already known that those with aggressive personalities are at higher risk of heart attack, but the new study is the first to suggest an instant effect from an outburst of anger.

The researchers offer a qualification. Their studies have demonstrated a correlation between intemperate rants and heart disease and stroke. They have not shown definitively that the one causes the other.

Still, you are not going to feel better if you get it off your chest.

Besides, if you are often in a rage, you will probably lose friends and alienate people. There's a reason why wrath is one of the seven deadly sins.

Naturally, no one is saying that you should never express emotion. The studies suggest that the temperate expression of emotion is the best, for your mental and physical health.


Ares Olympus said...

I remember the story of the Japanese samurai warrior, shows the virtue of self-discipline.

When I first heard the story I thought it weakened the warrior everyone would know he would back down if his opponents could get him angry, but now I see, next time he gets spit in the face, he's already faced down that demon, and it won't be a problem in the next encounter.

"A samurai warrior once was charged with avenging a noble's death at the hands of a rival warlord. He trained for four years, studied the warlord's habits, and planned his attack. When the day came, he stealthily approached the warlord when he was alone, and cornered him. The samurai held his katana aloft, poised to strike the final blow, when the warlord, utterly defeated, spit in the face of the samurai. The samurai sheathed his sword and walked away, rather than kill the warlord out of anger."

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. I'd say the fundamental downside of expressing anger is if it enables self-deception. If something needs our attention and we misidentify, then anger won't be resolved.

I was also thinking of the idea that resentment, anger, and contempt are described as different expressions based on status, like this good article:

Resentment seems the trickiest form of anger because it is hidden, like passive-aggressive behavior, you can pretend things are good with people who have power over you, and take out your anger on those who you consider beneath you. And this dynamic is hidden unless you remember events carefully and connect the dots.

Since the mind is very good at self-justification under anger, maybe the only way to see through it is to identify your own hypocrisy, when you see your standards of behavior change based on your perceptions of power in different circumstances.